In soccer (or ‘football’ as it’s known to most of the world), England has only taken out one World Cup – over half a century ago, back in 1966. But off the field and on the ‘telly’, the Brits seem to grab the title for ‘Best Holiday Ad’ on the planet every single year.
Once again in 2022, there are some worthy contenders from other countries, just as there have been outliers experiencing success against the big guns in Qatar.
Ireland makes a strong showing with an ad for postal service An Post, where a Wizard Of Oz inspired Tin Man finds his heart.
Australia puts its best foot forward with a spot for supermarket chain Aldi, with a gymnastics-driven narrative about the fight over who gets the last prawn (shrimp).
Denmark comes out all guns blazing with a blockbuster piece of holiday fantasy complete with superstar Katy Perry atop a Lego creation come to life, and plenty of visual effects ‘fireworks’.
The Swiss tell a smart story of holiday gift-giving one-up-manship for retailer Manor.
And the US have flashes of brilliance, like ‘Joy Is Made’ by Amazon, the story of a cherished snow globe directed by NZ wunderkind Taika Waititi.
But it’s the Brits who ultimately triumph once again in the battle of the big ads of the season. The best of the best tug at consumers’ heartstrings or tickle their funny bones (or both) while ever-so-gently prising open shoppers’ wallets (while being cognizant of the tough economic times in the UK). Emotion is prioritised over transaction.
Check out the superb storytelling of The National Lottery romcom-commercial ‘A Christmas Love Story’, directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper.
Or the hilarious spot for Landsec-owned shopping centers, which shows how to cope with annoying relatives by ‘leaving them speechless’.
Like the World Cup, picking the most-loved ad of the season has become a sport for English viewers. British pharmacy chain Boots came out top on a number of publications’ ‘best of’ lists. (Disclaimer: the ad was produced by the agency I work for, VMLY&R). The ad tells the story of a woman who finds a magic pair of glasses on a bus, which reveal a fantastical holiday world when she puts them on.
So why are the British so damn good at holiday ads? To me, it’s part cultural, part calendar, part creative and part client (the advertiser).
From a cultural perspective, the English have always been strongly sentimental about Christmas (and it is still overwhelmingly referred to as ‘Christmas’ rather than ‘holiday’). The modern tradition of Christmas began in England 500 years ago, it was re-invigorated in Dickensian times, and it lives on today.
In terms of the calendar, marketers in the US need to get through Halloween and Thanksgiving before turning their attention to Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and all the other holiday celebrations. England’s retail calendar is simpler – and can largely focus on Christmas from November (or earlier) on.
From a creative viewpoint, British agencies take their ads seriously – in fact, they are often referred to not as ‘ads’ but ‘films’, which need care and craft to bring them to life.
And finally, when it comes to the client, there is one advertiser who really created the tradition (and the template) for British blockbusters during the holiday period, and that’s department store John Lewis. Back in 2007, they launched their first big holiday ad. By 2011, the public was starting to eagerly await John Lewis ads like “The Long Wait”, which sold the “feeling” of Christmas (rather than merchandise at a price), often accompanied by a cover of a hit song.
As other advertisers responded and tried to make their own mini-masterpieces, seasonal ads in the UK became as hotly anticipated and debated as Super Bowl commercials are in the US. As reported in Fast Company, Christmas really is ‘The Super Bowl of British Advertising’.
Once again in 2022, the arrival of the annual John Lewis ad signified the start of the Christmas season for Britons. And this year, it is more purpose-driven than ever – with a narrative around a middle-aged man learning to skateboard, in order to bond with a visiting foster child.
Who knows whether England will claim the World Cup trophy. But in my opinion, they are winners again in holiday advertising.